Editor’s note: The Raleigh Public Record was a CityCamp Raleigh sponsor. Bryan LeClaire, one of the winning group team members, is reporter for the Record.
A six-person team that spent the weekend making it easier for the public to access school performance data took home the top prize Sunday at CityCamp Raleigh.
Using telepresence technology, this group wanted to create a “magic mirror” to connect Raleigh public places with sister cities around the world through giant video screens.
By harnessing smart meter data and advanced energy analytics, the group wanted to find a way to “make sustainability pay.”
You speak for me
An online system would enable citizens to express their views on local legislation by drafting position statements or voting up the statements of others, which would be read at council meetings or public forums by volunteers.
Social media marketing would mean more awareness for farmers in community-supported agriculture programs.
Train the underemployed to interview citizens about their feelings on local issues and translate that data into audio and written reports for decision makers.
Team Use Open Source
Have governments embrace open-source software and hardware to save money and increase efficiency.
Using QR codes and automated message services, paired with forthcoming GPS tracking data on Triangle buses, the group wanted to make commutes easier by opening access to real-time route information to anyone with a phone.
The three-day “unconference” brought together citizens, business professionals and city leaders to discuss ways to make government more transparent using open data and open-source tools. Team “Open it Up” was one of eight groups to vie for a $5,000 prize to turn ideas from the conference into actual solutions.
During their presentation to a crowd of about 30 other attendees and a handful of judges on CityCamp’s final day, team members explained their efforts were guided by a need to do more with publicly available government data.
“We want to open it up because this data belongs to us,” said team member Hope Ethington.
When the conference began Friday, team members took note of the problems several presenters had with the flexibility of school report card data supplied by the Department of Public Instruction. Citizens can either view school-specific data in static tables or PDFs online, or can they can choose to order a CD for $10 with the raw data. There’s no way, for example, for parents to easily compare performance data between schools or highlight trends over time.
In less than 24 hours, the team’s prototype changed that. With the help of Traci Blount, DPI section chief for communications and information, the team set up NCOpenData.org to first enable anyone to download the raw data for themselves. Then they put the information to work, using a visualization tool called Socrata to chart sample data such as math and reading scores. The goal, according to team member Carlos Santana, was to form a platform others can use for their own applications.
“I wanted to fix the problem of not having middleware so we can enable anyone to build their own apps,” Santana said.
Although the group hadn’t discussed specifics about what to do with their winnings, they said they hope to apply the same techniques they used with school performance reports to other government data, using their website to allow the public to access it all with a click.
“It’s validating to me that the judges saw this idea has potential,” said team member Jason Horne.
While not technically a member of the team, Blount said she planned to take what she learned from CityCamp and the opinions of Open it Up back to the DPI leadership. Ethington said that’s an important step toward helping government officials recognize the benefits of open data.
“The reality is, none of us are in the position of power to make these decisions,” Ethington said.
But City Council member Bonner Gaylord, a co-planner of the event, said the conversation about open data in government won’t stop with the end of CityCamp. He and co-planner Jason Hibbets are already planning periodic meetups to continue the momentum from the hundreds or so event attendees through the weekend. Organizers also created the Raleigh Open Sandbox on Google Groups to foster online collaboration.
“For us to have actual live citizens engaged in solving problems we normally have to pay cash to think about is ultimately the best thing for everyone,” Gaylord said.